Covid-19

Coronavirus Western Cape

Flying Squad shut down for two weeks as more members test positive for Covid-19 

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 16: A general view of a 24-hour police roadblock checking the permits of motorists on the N2 near Khayelitsha on Day 21 of the National Lockdown on April 16, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Roger Sedres)

Radio Control and Flying Squad members were due to resume duties on 17 April, but an 11th-hour intervention by the union Solidarity resulted in the extended shutdown.

Eight of 300 Flying Squad and Radio Control members in the Western Cape have tested positive for the coronavirus. The tally could rise when test results of the other unit members are returned.

The Flying Squad and 10111 call centre have been shut down for a mandatory 14-day quarantine period. The first two members of the squad tested positive for Covid-19 on 15 April and the centre was subsequently closed for 48 hours for the premises to be sanitised.

Radio Control and Flying Squad members were due to resume duties on 17 April, but an 11th-hour intervention by the union Solidarity resulted in the extended shutdown.

In a letter to provincial police commissioner General Yolisa Matakata, the union said that the two members who had tested positive had come into contact with several other members of the unit.

Ronel Stander, provincial coordinator for Solidarity, noted that other members of the unit could have been infected had the office opened on Friday.

A total of 300 officers have been tested at Tygerberg Hospital.

“The members who tested positive have been placed in isolation for 14 days. It is safe to say that at least eight members have been tested positive so far for Covid-19,” said Stander.

The tally could increase once the results of other members were released. 

“I have received a letter from the acting deputy provincial commissioner Human Resource Management indicating the unit will be closed for 14 days until the results of all members are known,” said Stander.

During this period, calls destined for the unit will be diverted to alternative police stations in the province. 

Stander welcomed the decision taken by the SAPS to close the offices and emphasised that the ramifications of leaving it operational could be “catastrophic” for SAPS members and the public.

More worrying, Stander added, is that some members who had tested positive had been asymptomatic. The challenge now was to compile a timeline of the eight members who had tested positive.

They had been in contact with fellow officers at various stations and the broader public, while some had carried out arrests.

In the meantime, a member of the Anti-Gang Unit who tested positive returned to work this week.

After four weeks at home and in isolation, the officer was given the green light to resume duties. Other AGU members who had been placed under quarantine after they returned from Sandton in Gauteng have also resumed duties.

At the time of writing, national police spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, had not responded to an inquiry about the total number of SAPS members who have tested positive.

Countrywide, police officers are still being arrested for violating provisions of the lockdown, with 12 members nabbed in three separate incidents over the weekend of 18 April.

Five SAPS members, including a police reservist, were arrested in the Free State after allegedly heading off to a tavern to drink alcohol. This was followed by the arrest of six members attached to the Brooklyn and Silverton police stations in Pretoria by members of the Mpumalanga Anti-Corruption Unit. 

The officers allegedly stole more than R30,000 in cash from a group of people passing through a roadblock. 

In the third incident, a police officer was apprehended after he allegedly called a gathering at the police barracks in Soshanguve in Tshwane.

National police commissioner General Khehla Sithole said that while it was disheartening that SAPS members were being arrested, the action served as a warning that criminals within the ranks of SAPS would be dealt with. DM

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